Jamaica’s cannabis gamble

WHEN JAMAICAN children catch a cold, mothers rub cannabis oil on their chests. Rastafarians smoke cannabis as a religious custom. Some believe that it grew on King Solomon’s tomb. Encouraged by the tropical climate, cannabis grows in many household gardens.

Until now, Jamaica’s connection to cannabis has mainly been a problem for the Caribbean country. It is the region’s biggest supplier of illegal weed to the United States, which coaxes the government to destroy illicit fields. Before 2015, a conviction for possession could result in a sentence of up to five years in jail. Thousands of young men were locked up.

Now Jamaica is starting to think of cannabis as an opportunity. Uruguay, Canada and ten American states have legalised it for recreational use. Ganja, as Jamaicans call it, is a “growth-oriented industry”, says Audley Shaw, the agriculture minister. In 2015 Jamaica decriminalised the possession of small amounts and allowed its cultivation for medical use. But Jamaica’s welcome is wary. It is trying to cash in on cannabis without provoking the United States. The risk of miscalculation is high.

Worldwide sales of medical marijuana will grow from $11bn in 2017 to $37bn in 2023, predicts Research and Markets, a research firm. A share of this could help Jamaica replace income from diminished sales of sugar,...

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